Statement Prepared By Roger Blobaum, Principal Investor of the Small Farm Energy Project
For Joint Hearing of the House Energy Development & Application Subcommittee and Senate Subcommittee on Energy Conservation & Supply
April 30, 1979
Mr. Chairman, I am appearing today as the principal investigator of the Small Farm Energy Project, a national research and demonstration project sponsored by the Center for Rural Affairs and funded by the Community Services Administration. The project is assisting 48 full time farm families in northeast Nebraska to adopt a wide range of energy-saving practices and to build their own alternative energy systems.
Our work with these farm families strongly suggests that federal agencies, particularly the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture, are under-estimating the interest that farmers have in solar and other renewable energy sources. Our experience working with real farmers on real farms has convinced us that they will move toward energy self-sufficiency if they have easy access to technical assistance, if they are encouraged with some incentives, and if they are not held back by institutional or administrative barriers.
We feel it is time for Congress to acknowledge the energy-saving potential of low-cost, home- built solar and other alternative energy systems, particularly for people living on farms and in rural communities, and to begin making agencies like DOE and USDA accountable for their failure to respond to this energy-saving potential. We feel it is time for these agencies to support energy education workshops for farm people, demonstration projects on real farms, and development of a national system for the delivery of technical assistance. Even a little official encouragement from these agencies, which wouldn’t cost the government anything, would be a big help.
The Nebraska farm families we work with, who operate diversified farms averaging 357 acres in size, did not have any previous experience with energy alternatives. Yet, in less than two years, they have utilized their skills and ingenuity in building a wide variety of solar and other alternative energy projects that save both energy and money. The list of completed projects includes solar hot water heaters on dairy barns, an attached solar greenhouse, three types of solar grain dryers, solar food dryers, a portable solar collector used for grain drying and home heating, several types of vertical wall collectors for home heating, and a roof-mounted solar system with storage for a farrowing barn.
Our experience in working closely with these farm families shows they prefer low-cost systems that are reasonably reliable, that are not too complicated, that have relatively short payback periods, that can be retrofitted on the sides or roofs of existing buildings, that are made from materials purchased from local business places, that utilize used lumber and other available materials, and that require a minimum of maintenance and attention. They want low-technology systems that they can build, maintain, and fix themselves.
We are convinced that solar systems that heat water, warm homes and livestock buildings, and dry grain are appropriate for the kinds of farms we have in the Midwest and we feel this kind of technology would be well received by small and moderate-sized farmers in other parts of the nation as well. Although the farm families in the project were reluctant at first to get involved in several approaches they considered a little far out, like solar greenhouses and solar food dryers, these, too, have become acceptable. They also are experimenting with wind power, improved manure handling systems, composting of manure and other wastes, minimum tillage practices, crop rotations that include nitrogen- fixing legumes, and a wide variety of energy conservation practices.
The farmers in the project are demonstrating that solar systems that meet a substantial portion of the space heating requirements for buildings, including both homes and such livestock facilities as farrowing barns, can be constructed for under $2,000. These systems include provisions for storing heat needed at night and on cloudy days.
Solar grain dryers that can be built at a cost of under $500 are another practical energy-saving approach. Our first dryer, retrofitted on a 6,000-bushel steel bin at a cost of $465, has performed well through two harvest periods. A model that is almost identical was built by our staff and a crew of volunteers at our exhibit site here at the ACT 79 Fair on Friday and Saturday and we would like to invite you to stop by and see it. Solar hot water heaters that are built and installed for about $1,000 make economic sense for dairy farmers.
We have found that plenty of proven technology for solar and other alternative energy applications on farms is available. A lot of good work is underway at colleges and universities on energy- saving innovations but most of this technology is not getting out to farmers and rural people. The Congress, in our judgment, should acknowledge this information gap and include a commitment to correct it.
In regard to national energy policy, the main problem seems to be continued government emphasis on high technology and centralized systems. USDA is fumbling around with the idea of making alcohol from grain in huge centralized plants, and recently funded four large industrial type projects, while ignoring, the potential of alcohol made on farms or at the community level. Home-built solar and other alternative energy systems, which can be built by farmers as our project is demonstrating, are not recognized by USDA’s Energy Office as a viable approach. DOE isn’t much better although small-scale technology is getting some token funding.
Overall, the idea seems to be that the government will support solar and other alternative energy applications on farms if they involve manufactured units that are complicated and cost a lot. Then USDA and land grant university economists can point out, as they do, that these systems are not economically feasible. And DOE can conclude that it is not yet time to”commercialize”them. This is a lot of nonsense and I would hope that you and others in the Congress would take action to change this attitude.
Our project, and others around the country as well, is demonstrating that solar energy is here, that it is practical, that it can provide substantial savings in electricity and other purchased energy inputs, that it makes economic sense, and that it is something anyone can become involved in. It is time for the Congress, and for the appropriate agencies, to begin recognizing the skills and ingenuity and commitment of individuals and the potential for energy self-reliance on farms and throughout rural America.
Statement Prepared By Roger Blobaum
Principal Investor of the Small Farm Energy Project
For Joint Hearing of the
House Energy Development & Application Subcommittee and
Senate Subcommittee on Energy Conservation & Supply
April 30, 1979
R. Blobaum. April 30, 1979. Small Farm Energy Project. Statement For Joint Hearing of the House Energy Development & Application Subcommittee Senate Subcommittee on Energy Conservation & Supply
Summary: Request to congress to acknowledge the energy-saving potential of low-cost, home- built solar and other alternative energy systems, particularly for people living on farms and in rural communities, and to begin making agencies like DOE and USDA accountable for their failure to respond to this energy-saving potential. “We feel it is time for these agencies to support energy education workshops for farm people, demonstration projects on real farms, and development of a national system for the delivery of technical assistance. Even a little official encouragement from these agencies, which wouldn’t cost the government anything, would be a big help.”